Small crossovers and big pickups soared in 2013, as the two segments combined to account for one of every four vehicles sold. But growth in the compact and mid-sized car segments slowed significantly, and minivan sales declined.
Overall, car sales rose 4 percent, and light-truck sales increased 11 percent.
Sales of small crossovers, a category that includes the new Buick Encore and Jeep Cherokee, jumped 23 percent in 2013. The segment was up 17 percent in 2012.
Each of the 12 top-selling small crossovers set new annual sales records, and the leading nameplate, the Honda CR-V, was the first crossover ever to surpass sales of 300,000 units in a year.
The segment's share of overall industry sales grew to 13 percent -- behind only mid-sized and compact cars -- from about 11 percent a year ago.
Small crossovers have gained popularity for their utility and fuel efficiency, particularly among baby boomers who no longer need space for large families but don't want a sedan. Redesigns of several high-volume nameplates, including the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue, are helping drive demand higher as well.
"They're all pushing the mid-30s in fuel efficiency, so they're viable competitors for those who were shopping in the midsize and compact car segments," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Small CUVs seem to be one of the vehicles of choice for that particular demographic."
Meanwhile, sales of full-sized pickups surged 17 percent, as more consumers and businesses that had delayed buying new trucks during the recession came back into the market. The rate of growth in the segment nearly doubled from 2012, when sales rose 9 percent.
Automakers sold nearly 2 million big pickups in 2013, including more than 760,000 Ford F-series. General Motors sold nearly 665,000 of its big pickups, which were redesigned for the 2014 model year. The Nissan Titan, down 27 percent, was the only full-sized pickup not to post a double-digit increase.
Mid-sized cars, which grew 22 percent in 2012, posted just a 1 percent increase in 2013. The Toyota Camry, despite facing considerable pressure early in 2013 from the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, retained its title as the nation's best-selling car for the 12th year in a row.
The order of the next 10 top-selling mid-sized cars was unchanged from 2012 as well.
Sales of compact cars, which rose 20 percent in 2012, were up 5 percent in 2013. Notably, the Ford Focus, sales of which fell 5 percent on the year, fell behind the Chevrolet Cruze and surging Hyundai Elantra.
Luxury cars continued their post-recession comeback, with sales rising 10 percent.
The biggest portion of that segment, compact luxury cars, posted a 19 percent gain. Jesse Toprak, a longtime analyst and president of Toprak Consulting, said Wall Street's best year since the 1990s and lower-priced additions such as the $30,000 Mercedes-Benz CLA coaxed more consumers into buying luxury cars.
"More consumers [are] feeling comfortable getting into this segment," Toprak said.
In contrast to all of the segments that grew, minivan sales fell 2 percent, after rising 14 percent a year ago. It was an especially tight race among the four major minivan nameplates, with the three runners-up each falling fewer than 8,000 units short of the Honda Odyssey.
Two other segments -- mid-sized SUVs and compact pickups -- posted declines but only because some high-volume nameplates were discontinued.
The end of the Jeep Liberty sent mid-sized SUVs, which now comprises just five entries, down 10 percent. Compact pickups fell 14 percent as production of the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon came to a halt.